Steve Perrin runs the fantastic Clippers SBN blog, Clips Nation. We had a question and answer email exchange in advance of tonight's meeting, and he gave me some wonderfully thoughtful answers about the state of the Clippers. I gave him...well, answers about the Timberwolves, which are published here if you want to go check them out.
Here is our Q and A about the Clips:
1. What is biggest difference, either tactically or in terms of team sensibility, between Doc Rivers as head coach and Vinny del Negro as head coach?
There are a lot of differences as you can imagine, but it's early too. There's always a honeymoon period with a new coach, and the Clippers were motivated and said all the right things under Del Negro also, so it's too early to put too much emphasis on perceived attitude changes. Yes, Doc's been there and we hope that translates, but we'll see. So the big difference for now is simply the movement on offense. Del Negro kept things super simple -- which frankly isn't a terrible plan with Chris Paul running the show, since simple can still be effective -- but Doc's offense has a lot more going on. Last season the team was content to let Paul run pick and roll with the three other guys spaced to specific places. There's a ton of off ball movement this year -- misdirection, back screens, Redick coming off screens all over the place. They are also getting into their sets much more quickly, so when option A doesn't work, there's time for an option B beyond "Make something happen Chris."
2. Best offense in the league, worst defense in the league. Do you expect either or both of these to regress toward the mean going forward, and if so why?
The offense won't remain at 113 points per 100 possessions or whatever crazy thing it's at now, but it should certainly be at or near the top of the league by season's end. They were fourth in offensive efficiency last year, and between Rivers' offense and better shooters like Redick and Dudley, there's every reason to expect them to be better. The defense won't remain worst -- the simple fact that they have something to play for should get them out of the bottom third, since defense is so much about effort, and there will be plenty of teams that won't care nearly as much as the season wears on. But there are other reasons to suspect (hope?) that the defense will improve. The starting unit has actually been pretty good -- it's the bench that's been a disaster, and while the personnel (guys like Byron Mullens and Jamal Crawford aren't exactly known for their D) aren't great, they've also suffered from the fact that Matt Barnes has been missing or sub-par, and Darren Collison has yet to get going. It's much easier to defend when you score and can set your defense, and other the Crawford, no one on the second unit has been able to make a basket this season. That, plus a more defensive minded big which will almost certainly be added to the roster before the trade deadline, will make a difference. This isn't ever going to be a great defensive team, but they'll get better -- remember too that they're still learning Rivers' defensive schemes.
3. The Clippers seem short a big man, and in fact both Griffin and Jordan are playing big minutes early -- does this concern you, and do you sense it's something the team is going to try to address during the season?
Oops, I jumped the gun on this question with my answer above. It's a major concern -- they are clearly short a big. If either Griffin or Jordan were to get injured right now it would be a disaster. Just letting them rest has killed the team every game so far. There's little question that the first big off the bench you'll see in the playoffs is not on the roster today. Who that is, when it happens and how they get him remains to be seen. They're bound by the hard cap, so they don't have a lot of options. There's always the possibility that a veteran big will be bought out at some point and become available, or that there's an unsigned guy out there right now who could help them. Boris Diaw and Chris Andersen come to mind as important mid-season acquisitions for playoff teams in that past two seasons. They have a small trade exception from the Eric Bledsoe deal they could conceivably use, though that's a long shot. And finally there's the trade route, but the pieces they have either don't have much trade value, or are guys the Clippers don't really want to move. I still have a tiny sliver of hope that Mullens can develop into a passable NBA big -- he's only 24 after all, and has never played minutes on a decent team -- but right now it's pretty ugly.
4. What do the Clippers have to achieve to make this a successful season in the eyes of the fan base?
I don't know how to answer that. I guess there's this feeling among some that if they don't advance to the Western Conference Finals that the season will have been a disappointment. I get that at some level -- but I also see how good the Spurs, the Rockets, the Warriors, the Thunder, the Grizzlies and, yes, the Wolves are. That's a lot of teams, and only two of them can make it to the WC Finals. Certainly the Pacific Division is an immediate goal, for whatever that's worth, which isn't much. If the team isn't in the top four in the West -- both regular season, and in the playoffs (i.e. not another first round exit) that would clearly be very disheartening. Do they have to go further than that to prove something? There are certainly some who believe that, but I wonder if there's really any great shame in a second round loss to, say, the Spurs?
5. Why will the Clippers beat the Wolves in this game? Why will they lose to the Wolves?
They'll beat the Wolves because they're back at home where they've hung 126 points on the Warriors and 137 points on the Rockets so far this season. When this offense is hitting on all cylinders, it's something to behold, and Chris Paul is going to show Ricky Rubio a thing or to.
They'll lose because they get killed on the boards and can't contend with Kevin Love, who records the second 30-20-10 triple double since 1985.